“It’s so good to see teammates just go straight down the course, battling it out with each other and doing what the sport is meant to do, which is have each other compete evenly and show off your skills.”
Standing on the sidelines at the World Cup in Big White, Canada, an injured Simon Patmore was easily the most enthusiastic spectator as not one or two, but three and four snowboarders swooped past him.
It was a brand-new spectacle for the Paralympic champion in snowboard-cross as the discipline has traditionally limited the number of riders on the course to two. This is about to change with the four-way format slated to appear at the 2019 World Para Snowboard Championships which begin in Pyha, Finland, on Tuesday.
The format was tested in the SB-UL class at the World Cup in Big White in February and the goal is that it will eventually be adopted by all racing categories.
“I was on the sidelines jumping and screaming,” Patmore said of his experience watching the four-way SBX in Canada. “It’s so good to see teammates just go straight down the course, battling it out with each other and doing what the sport is meant to do, which is have each other compete evenly and show off your skills.”
Sideline to spotlight
Patmore sat out the SB-UL snowboard-cross races in Big White because he had a recent lower body injury and did not want to aggravate it. But nothing could keep the Australian rider from following the races as a spectator, and he was not the only one eagerly taking in the action.
“It’s definitely more exciting for the viewer,” Patmore said. “When I was watching from the sidelines in Big White, watching the heats go down the hill, everyone on the chairlift above us was watching it. It was exciting.”
The four-way format was not adopted earlier because there were not enough riders in the classes who who could compete in a tight race. But as the sport grows, so do the efforts to make the expanded format a regular feature at competitions.
“It’s definitely brought a whole new aspect to what the sport is about,” Patmore said. “It’s going to be the future for us going forward. We just need more competitions to let this ride all the way out to Beijing [2022 Paralympic Games].”
Four times the effort
With the four-way format on the agenda for the 2019 World Championships, Patmore is not taking any chances. After spending four years ahead of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games training the two-way border-cross, the Australian rider switched to training in larger heats four months ago to prepare for the Worlds.
His training troupe included fellow World Cup athletes Sean Pollard and Ben Tudhope of Australia, Canada’s Alex Massie and Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari. Dubbed “the Unicorns,” the quintet regularly trains in four or five-men heats together.
“In two-men heats, it’s just you and another person riding together. You know where they are on course. When you got four-men, you think you got one person inside and then someone else might go past you so it’s a totally different awareness,” Patmore said.
“Even the course is wider so there’s more potential for passing, and a different skillset, particularly the start section. You got four people going into the first corner. It can be carnage.”
While training with the Unicorns has helped Patmore hone his four-way skills, he laments that he was unable to try out the format in Big White against his potential Worlds rivals.
“I’ve got the know-how but I haven’t raced my competitors, which is the most important part because you don’t know what they’re capable of doing on the course,” Patmore said.
Patmore finished fifth in SBX at the 2017 Worlds but has since seen a big spike in his results. Aside from winning the Paralympic title last year, the Australian athlete has won two golds and one silver in the World Cup border-cross races so far this season.
Coming into the 2019 Worlds as the Paralympic champion does not weigh heavy on the 31-year-old thanks to the change in race format.
“The Paralympics were a totally different race compared to what it is now, two-men heats. I trained for that for four years, but we’ve had only one year to train for four-men heats so I’ve taken the pressure off my shoulders,” Patmore said. “It could be any man’s race.”
That potential winner is likely among the snowboarders Patmore has identified as his “dream final” rivals - France’s Maxime Montaggioni who won both border-cross races in Big White, Austria’s Patrick Mayrhofer and Italy’s Jacopo Luchini.
“I’m planning to go in there with a strategy even though I’m not a 100 per cent,” Patmore said. “I think I can get to a 100 per cent and have a strategy and take home what I want and that is to be a world champion.”